Procurement body says it acted lawfully following T&T’s allegations over government consultant framework

Procurement body UK SBS has defended its conduct in awarding a troubled £750m public sector framework to more than a dozen consultants in June, in its ongoing legal battle with Turner & Townsend.

Turner & Townsend (T&T) lodged a legal challenge in the High Court in July against the award of the four-year Project Management and Full Design Team Services framework by UK SBS, claiming rival firms used “price manipulation” to win places on the framework.

T&T was among a number of major firms to lose out on places on the UK lots of the framework, which was provisionally awarded in June. In its defence, seen by Building, UK SBS says it acted lawfully and undertook “proper application […] of the transparent and objective price evaluation and scoring methodology”.

T&T’s legal challenge claimed “many of the winning bidders” undertook price and “scoring manipulation” in order to secure higher marks. It claimed UK SBS failed to recognise and investigate this and failed to investigate “abnormally low” pricing.

T&T claimed rivals manipulated UK SBS’ scoring system - which was based solely on prices submitted for consultancy services in the South-east - by providing “very low prices for the South-east” and “very high upwards adjustments to those prices for regional work”. T&T said this was despite the fact regional work ought to be cheaper.

UK SBS’s defence says it never promised to exclude abnormally low bids, but that nevertheless it sought written response from 11 bidders who had submitted prices that appeared low and was satisfied none should be rejected.

The procurement body admits all but two of the winning bidders offered regionally adjusted prices that were “generally higher than their South-east prices”.

But UK SBS’ defence says T&T’s claim it was “improper” for bidders to provide upward regional variations in pricing is “embarrassingly pleaded” - legal shorthand for being unclear about what is alleged - “and is anyway denied”.

T&T’s evidence against bidders it suspects of price and scoring manipulation was contained in a confidential annex to its court papers not seen by Building.

Consultants Capita, Jacobs, Mace, Pick Everard and Mott MacDonald were among the big winners, landing spots on all four lots. According to scorecards for the UK lots seen by Building in June, Mace won all four lots on pricing. Building is unaware of which firm or firms are the subject of T&T’s allegations of price mainpulation.

Turner & Townsend and UK SBS declined to comment.